Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Passing of Henry VIII

The Passing of Henry VIII


      Today is the anniversary of the death, in 1547, of King Henry VIII.  By coincidence, today is as well the anniversary of the birthday of his father, King Henry VII.

      Although historians can and do dispute the issue, in many respects he was a lousy king.  On two occasions he sent England to war in France; in both instances the gains were minimal while the costs were huge.  He as well underwrote several campaigns, including those of Maxmillian, the Holy Roman Emperor, further depleting the quite healthy treasury left him by Henry VII (to suggest that Henry VII was in the later part of his reign, especially after the death of his wife, only miserly is to suggest to much frivolity).  Meanwhile, England’s greatest military victory during his reign, the Battle of Flodden Field, was won by Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, thereby earning him the return of Dukedom of Norfolk lost after his family fought for the wrong side (i.e., that of Richard III) at the Battle of Bosworth.  Henry VIII was not even in England when that victory was achieved.

      Henry fancied that at least northern Europe was a tri-part division of power between England, France and the Holy Roman Emperor.  While the Treaty of London, structured by Cardinal Wolsey, would reflect this division, the reflection was possible only because the Holy Roman Empire and France accommodated the fiction.  In fact, there were two great powers in Europe, France and the Holy Roman Empire.  England, while economically important, was not a significant diplomatic power.

      Having condemned Luther as a heretic in his Defense of the Seven Sacraments, earning him from the Papacy the title Defender of the Faith, when it became convenient to do so in order to achieve the desired annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Henry separated the English Church from communion with Rome.  Unwilling to accept even silent dissent from his policies, he would procure the executions of numerous men of conscience including St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More.

      While the now iconic portrait of Henry painted by Hans Holbein the Younger shows a man of dynamism and vigor (btw, what we have are copies; the original was lost when the Whitehall Palace burned), in many respects he was just not that great a king.

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